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As a user, there are some things that are universally understood. We know that a red stop sign means to stop. We know what a light switch looks like. We know that an M on a clothing tag means medium.
These universal conventions prevent users from having to make their own deductions regarding the meaning of certain objects and symbols. This should also be applied to visual design.
Yes, it’s good to be unique and different and to stand out from the crowd for many things, but when it comes to using universally recognized icons, its a good idea to stick with the mainstream.
Let’s take a look at examples where it’s not usually best to flex your creative muscle.
RSS Feed Buttons
The icon for subscribing to an RSS feed has now become so universal that most people grasp what it is quickly. Obviously, you would like to increase your subscribers so it is very important to keep your RSS button prominent and recognizable. If people have to spend time looking for or deciphering what your RSS button is, it is possible they will miss it entirely and you will lose their subscription.
Shopping Cart Buttons
Shopping carts are one of the most important features in an online store. Having a recognizable shopping cart icon that allows customers to click and see what items they have selected and directs them to checking out is a way of streamlining online shopping and making it easier to receive money from customers. The cart button is the most recognized icon, but some sites also use shopping bags which, though not as effective, is an acceptable substitute.
This is a very recognizable tool that shouldn’t be messed with too much. A search box will help people to utilize your site and to find what they are looking for, so it makes sense that the search box looks like other search boxes and is also easy to find.
The key here is to make your site easy to use and to prevent visitors from having to think too hard. It’s good if things like RSS Subscription buttons and shopping carts are utilized, and having these easy to find means one more reason to get what you are looking for out of your visitors. Though it is tempting to break the mold and do something unique with these features, keeping them recognizable is likely to serve you better in the long run.
What other online features do you think would be good to keep conventional?